High school seniors plan all year for one of the biggest nights of their lives – the prom. And two Niagara Falls High School teachers spend just as much time planning for an all-night “post prom” so their students go home safely after the prom.

Now in its seventh year, the Niagara Falls High School Post Prom will be held right after this year's prom, which will be June 7.

The post-prom party has drawn 500 students or more each year and is becoming even more popular than the prom itself, said Niagara Falls High School teachers Christine R. Farino and James T. Hartung, who started the event and organize it each year. They raise $10,000 or more each year for the blowout through donations from local businesses, parents and the community.

Farino, who teaches 12th-grade English, said she and Hartung, a 12th-grade economics and government teacher, hatched the plan shortly after a “beautiful and brilliant” young girl, one of their former students who had recently graduated, died as the result of a drunken-driving crash. She was a passenger, and her girlfriend who was driving was also critically injured.

“We went to her wake, and I said, 'That's it. I never want to go through that again. I can't take it,' ” she said. “My heart still breaks.”

“We thought, what could we pull off that would bring me back to school? They are all dressed up and don't want the night to end, but where can they go?” Hartung said. “We knew what was happening, but they were not good choices.”

Young people genuinely want to have good, clean fun, Farino believes, but they were being pressured into bad behavior.

“Everybody accepted the fact that after the prom other things were going on that we weren't happy with. It was a must. You had to do it,” Farino said. “Now, if you are anybody, you go to the Post Prom.”

She said the prom can also be unobtainable for some students who don't have the money for the expensive night and fancy dresses.

“It's so expensive. I've seen girls in tears because they can't afford to buy a dress,” Farino said.

Admission to the Post Prom is free, and casual dress is encouraged. All seniors and their guests are invited, whether they go to the prom or not, said Hartung.

Doors open to the post-prom party at 11:30 p.m., with no entry allowed after 12:30 p.m. The event concludes at 3:45 a.m., Hartung said. He said anyone who leaves is not allowed to re-enter and forfeits the chance to win prizes.

The teachers said that in the beginning it was a tough sell to get kids to attend, but as word of the fun spread, the event's popularity grew.

Their challenge was throwing a party that the kids wouldn't think was too “hokey,” as Hartung put it.

So they came up with a plan: “We wanted it to be like a mini Erie County Fair,” Hartung said.

The Post Prom fills the gym, auditorium and first floor of the high school with games such as riding the mechanical bull, a dunk tank, pie throwing at some of the school's academic disciplinarians, a bounce house, a Velcro wall, a Jell-O eating competition, a medieval joust, basketball, pingpong, golf, and monster laser tag in the dark. The teacher's lounge is turned into a casino, where students win tickets rather than cash, courtesy of casino night games from local churches.

Throughout the night, there are strolling characters, a photo booth, wandering magicians, caricature artists, face painting and airbrushed tattoos, as well as music, smoothies and other food and drinks.

Hartung said they rent the huge inflatables a year in advance – and keep their fingers crossed that all the funding comes through.

“It's all dependent on the donations,” Hartung said. Parent and teacher volunteers, and even some former students, help on the night of the event, they said.

In addition to donations of cash and checks, Hartung said, they also ask for donations of gift cards, valued at about $25, for gas, restaurants, movie passes, Darien Lake tickets, or anything else students would like, as well as gift baskets that students can win at the various games. About half the funding is raised through advertising in the Commemorative Graduation Book, a memory book in which the community, businesses and parents are asked to buy ads. All the money raised goes to the Post Prom party.

Hartung said they give out nearly $5,000 worth of prizes. Only Niagara Falls High School students are eligible to win.

“Everything donated is spent. This is a party for these students,” Hartung said.

“I am happiest the next day when I don't read anyone's name in the paper – that there was a casualty,” Farino said. “[My students] are like my family. Even after I retire, I will know I made a difference in the lives of these students and future students.”

Hartung agreed. “I'm not looking for anything. This is the proverbial labor of love. You do it because it's in your blood. It was born out a belief and hope that there was a viable safe alternative.”

Anyone who would like to donate should make out checks to the NFHS Student Council. Those with donations of cash, gift cards or baskets can contact Farino or Hartung by calling 278-5800. Donations can also be dropped off at or mailed to the school at 4455 Porter Road, Niagara Falls.

To learn more about advertising in the Commemorative Graduation Book, visit the district website.